Entergy files injunction against Benton Utilities
Hearing set Monday; negotiations continue over disputed Exit 114 property
Attorneys for Entergy Arkansas LLC have filed an injunction against Benton Utilities and other city employees and elected officials in order to halt the calling of a special election in March related to property near Exit 114.
A hearing has been set for 9 a.m. Monday before a special judge in the case.
All four Saline County judges have recused themselves from this case. The hearing will be held in Courtroom 3.
The hearing is open to the public.
Although negotiations between BU and Entergy are still ongoing regarding BU’S acquisition of property near the exit, the Benton City Council approved two ordinances in December relating to the matter including a measure that calls for a special election if a settlement between the two companies cannot be reached.
Jason Carter, of Carter Law Firm, one of the attorney’s representing BU in the matter, said the purpose of the injunction is essentially twofold to stop the city of Benton from having an election to acquire electric service territory from Entergy pursuant to Act 324 of 1935 and Section 5 of the franchise agreement between Benton and Entergy, and to stop Benton from providing temporary power to development occurring at the exit.
“Entergy argues that the election is not allowed,” Carter said. “We disagree. Entergy argues that Benton can’t provide generators to support development at Exit 114. We disagree. For the record, we aren’t pleased to be going through the election. We believe we communicated openly with Entergy for a long time about providing electric service to the majority of the area that is involved in the dispute. We felt like there was an agreement that we would serve the area.
Then, when the property was about to develop, the agreement went out the window. There are lots of unhappy people about that.”
The court documents filed by Entergy not only name Benton Utilities, but also Mayor Tom
Farmer, City Clerk Cindy Stracener and Saline County Election Commissioners Jamie Clemmer, Lois Burks and Judy Pridgen.
The documents also name Phil Miller, Charles Best, Doug Stracener, Gary Ferrell and Jim Martin in their capacities as Benton Public Utility Commissioners. All of the Benton City Council members are also named in the documents.
“I don’t know why all of the council and commission members were served,” Carter said. “They are not being sued in their personal capacity. That said, there is no prohibition against Entergy naming and serving everyone. That’s just a matter of their own preference or, perhaps, other reasons they think it’s important.”
John Bethel, director of public affairs for Entergy, addressed the council during their December meeting asking the council not to approve ordinances relating to the matter stating that approval could jeopardize the negotiations. He previously asked the aldermen during the November meeting to hold off on a vote until the December meeting, which the council agreed to do.
Alderman Steve Lee and City Attorney Brent Houston both questioned Bethel during the December meeting as to why Entergy opposes the ordinances due to the fact that they can be repealed if an agreement is reached.
“Explain that if it passed tonight, how would that negatively affect the negotiation process between the city and Entergy?” Houston asked.
Bethel answered by saying that an approval vote would start a “formal process.”
“Making preparations for an election declares the city is, by its own ordinances, intending to act to take our property,” Bethel said. “Right now that hasn’t happened, but when it does, certainly we have to consider what actions we may need to take to protect and defend our rights just as you believe you need to do that.”
If the ordinances were not approved during the December meeting, the city would have missed the required deadline set by state law when calling a special election in March.
Bethel also said at that time that by not approving the ordinances, the negotiations could “continue to be positive.”
Carter said that as far as he is aware, negotiations are still ongoing even though the injunction has been filed by Entergy.
“Entergy has appeared willing to continue discussing terms,” Carter said. “No person from Benton has told me negotiations were over. The next step for Benton Utilities is to make sure that the court understands why we believe that the election is an appropriate and lawful course of action.”